Shock and anger spread Tuesday through a rural Massachusetts town where prosecutors have charged nine teenagers with bullying an Irish immigrant girl who later committed suicide.
Parents in South Hadley were struggling to deal with the tragedy in which the authorities have accused students of hounding pretty, 15-year-old Phoebe Prince until she killed herself. And they alleged school staff failed to intervene.
The local district attorney, Elizabeth Scheibel, charged nine students with a variety of crimes, including stalking, harassment and statutory rape, saying they had made Prince’s last day alive “tortuous.”
“She was subjected to verbal harassment and threatened physical abuse,” Scheibel said.
“The events were not isolated, but the culmination of a nearly three-month campaign of verbally assaultive behavior and threats of physical harm.”
Prince enrolled last year at the high school in idyllic South Hadley after immigrating from County Clare in Ireland. On January 14, she walked home and hanged herself, to be discovered by her younger sister.
What might have remained a private tragedy erupted into public outrage Monday when authorities announced the charges.
That outrage grew Tuesday as parents confronted the disturbing details of the case, in which a student clique reportedly known as the Mean Girls allegedly made the newcomer’s life hell in revenge for dating an older boy.
Worse, it was alleged that teachers were out of touch with student relationships and did not think of stepping in.
Scheibel said the bullying had been “common knowledge.”
“Certain faculty, staff and administrators of the high school also were alerted to the harassment of Phoebe Prince before her death. Prior to Phoebe’s death, her mother spoke with at least two school staff members about the harassment Phoebe had reported to her,” the prosecutor said.
“A lack of understanding of harassment associated with teen dating relationships seems to have been prevalent at South Hadley High School.”
Mitchell Brouillard, the father of another bullying victim, told AFP that anger was growing at the staff.
“I think quite a few people are complaining against the administrators of the school and might require resignations. All the administration at this point are equally responsible,” he said.
“It’s been going on for a couple of years now. My daughter decided to speak to some local reporters after Phoebe’s suicide. And the day after the report was published, she was bullied again and physically harmed.”
The mother of one of the students charged in bullying Prince spoke Tuesday of her disbelief.
“We have strong values, and I don’t like injustice, and injustice includes bullying or being racist,” the mother, Angeles Chanon, told the Boston Herald daily.
“They’re teenagers. They call names,” Chanon said. “She did not physically assault (her). I know she knows better than that. I wouldn’t accept that.”